Isaiah 55:10-11; Romans 8:18-23; Matthew 13:1-23
Imagine a sower going out to sow. Go on, use your imagination. Can you see him?
There he goes, stepping it out, up and down, backwards and forwards, tirelessly doing his work, casting the seed to left and right. He looks familiar, doesn’t he? Who is this sower? He looks like Jesus - in fact, it is Jesus. It is the Lord himself, hard at work.
Imagine the seed. Like rain falling to the earth, or maybe like snow, it covers the soil, seeking a crack to fall into so that it might take root and grow and become what it is meant to become. He scatters it generously over the entire field. He doesn’t seem to be looking where he is throwing it. It falls everywhere – beside the path, on the rocks, among the thorns. How strange! The seed is so precious but he doesn’t seem to care. He is sowing it in all the corners of this field – not a single square centimetre misses out. What is this seed? It is the Word of God. Jesus is busy sowing the Word of God.
Imagine the field. Let’s follow the sower as he walks the pathways through his field. It’s a narrow path, just wide enough for him to walk the length of his field, up and down. We see clumps of thorn bushes here and there and watch the seeds disappear into the tangle of their branches. Patches of rock litter the field and we notice the seeds lying exposed on their hard surface. And then there is the soil, wonderful, rich and fertile, greedily swallowing up the seed and its promise of a harvest.
Where is this field? Have you ever wondered? Don’t be shocked when I tell you it’s not far away – it’s in your heart. Yes, it’s in your heart - in actual fact it is your heart.
Now close your eyes and hold one hand over your heart. Imagine that field there where your heart is, and imagine the sower walking there, in your heart, sowing the seed. It’s Jesus himself and he is sowing the Word of God deep within you, right now.
All this makes Jesus’ parable rather personal, doesn’t it? It’s about you, and not only that, it’s about the most personal part of you, your secret inner self, the part no one else can see. What Jesus does by telling this parable is to make the invisible, hidden part of you suddenly all too visible.
The parable is not about four different groups of people - edge-of-the-path people, rocky people, thorny people, and good-soil people. No! The parable shows us four different parts of ourselves and then asks us to take a good, hard look.
There are two extremes indicated: those parts where the seeds never even get to germinate because they fall in poor soil on the edge of the path, and those parts where the seeds yield a harvest because they are received in rich soil.
So we can see – it’s all a matter of soil quality. It’s not the quality of the seed that's being questioned - it’s the quality of the soil, the soil of our hearts. The compacted, often trodden on soil beside the path give no shelter to the seed and it is eaten by the birds; the cultivated rich soil of the field accepts the seed and yields a harvest.
So now we need to clarify what makes for good soil and what makes for poor soil? It’s all too simple. Jesus tells us very clearly. The poor soil is the man who hears but doesn’t understand; the rich soil is the man who hears and does understand. How simple is that?
The word of God comes to us in countless ways. Jesus liked to express it in parables. A parable encapsulates the truth much like a macadamia nut or an almond or a walnut encapsulate the seed. They require effort to break into. Parables require effort too – they require goodwill.
Some people are all too ready to say: Oh, it’s too hard! I just don’t understand! OK, that’s fair enough, so what can they do about that? They have to spend time, make an effort, study and pray. In this sense every parable is like a walnut. It’s a test of how much we want to get to the seed, a test of how much we want to understand.
As I said, it’s not the seed that’s on trial here - it’s us – it’s our desire to understand that’s being tested.
I see my sister knitting from a magazine. The instructions are complex and I don’t understand them – but she does. How come? Because she’s willing to make the effort and I’m not. And that goes for so many things in life we don’t really want to understand, including God’s Word. We say: It’s too hard! when actually what we mean is: I’m not really interested!
There are two other areas in the field of our hearts that prevent the seed from bearing a harvest even when we are of some goodwill. The first is the rock and the second is the thorns – the hard, unyielding, stubborn, proud, unwilling-to-change parts of our hearts and the deadly, immoderate passions which effectively smother the seed.
I’m not going to make a lengthy description of the thorns and the rocks in our hearts, that’s up to each one of us to do. Each one of us has to identify those things which prevent the word of the Kingdom from bearing a harvest in our life. This will take time and effort, prayer and study, patience and faithfulness but, of course, we’ll do it if we're really interested.